Noel Finucane was born in Bolton, Lancashire, England in 1889, the son of John and Mary Finucane. At some time when Noel was a boy the family must have moved, for he was educated at Clint Road School in Edge Hill, Liverpool, Lancashire. By May 1915 the family had crossed the River Mersey and resided at 117 Manor Road, Liscard, Wallasey, Cheshire.
As a professional waiter in the Mercantile Marine, he had served on the Lusitania as a first class waiter in the Stewards’ Department long before the outbreak of the First World War.
He engaged for his 26th voyage on the liner at Liverpool on 12 April 1915 at a monthly wage of £4-5s-0d (£4.25) and reported for duty at 7am on 17 April, before the vessel left the River Mersey for the last time.
He survived the liner’s sinking three weeks later, although he was initially reported killed. Having been rescued from the sea and landed at Queenstown, he managed to get back to Wallasey shortly afterwards, where he described his experiences to a reporter of the local newspaper 'The Wallasey News' which were published on Saturday 15 May 1915:
"It was gleaned that he gave up his lifebelt to a lady passenger. An incident that stands out in his recollection of the disaster was a piano sliding down the deck owing to the boat’s list and the crash of the notes as the instrument crashed up against the bulkhead. When the boat began to settle down, Mr. Finucane dived over the side, telling one of the stewards, - Fred Gorst, of Poulton - to do the same. That was the last he saw of his comrade.
It appeared that Mr. Finucane took the plunge only just in time, for as he did so, the Lusitania heeled over and the funnels struck the water with a crash, the impact sending up a huge wave, lifting him completely out of the water. For some time he swam about and came upon an oar which he used to support himself.
After swimming for some time he came alongside a collapsible boat, into which 40 to 50 people were eventually assisted. At this time, Mr. Finucane’s clothing was reduced to collar and tie and his socks, he having divested himself of the rest of his attire while swimming. Mr. Finucane gave his shirt to bind up the wound of one of the rescued crew."
His comrade First Class Waiter Frederick William Gorst must have gone down with the ship, for he was never seen again, alive or dead.
Noel Finucane was officially paid off from the Lusitania’s final voyage for his service from 17 April until 8 May, 24 hours after the liner went down. The balance of wages owing to him amounted to £4-9s-6d (£4.47½).
In 1957 former Fireman on the Lusitania John O’Connell gave an interview to local newspaper 'The Liverpool Echo' about his experiences of the sinking which was published on 5 April 1957. In it he related climbing onto an upturned boat and described some of the other occupants who were perching there:
"There was an engineer and right in the centre - as if to maintain some kind of grotesque balance - a completely naked man.
"I eyed the poor chap for a while and then decided it was time things began to get back to normal. I slipped off my singlet and threw it to him." But Mr. O'Connell is short, the other man was tall, and propriety took a poke in the eye."
When O’Connell had returned home to Liverpool, an incident occurred which reminded him of his shipwreck experiences:
"Crossing London Road thinking about nothing in particular, he saw a group of Liverpool Scottish volunteers come marching down. In the middle of them was the naked man from the boat, (fully clothed again, of course!). He had joined the Army presumably for revenge of the speediest kind. "He nearly persuaded me to go along with him; I managed to assure him, however, that I was no lubber"."
The former naked man was almost certainly Noel Finucane for after the sinking, he had engaged on the
Aquitania, another of the Cunard fleet and a sister ship of the Lusitania. He served on board her during the rest of her service in the Dardanelles campaign as a troop ship, until the evacuation of the Gallipoli Peninsula. Following this he enlisted in the Army at Southampton, possibly having been paid off there from the
Aquitania, and was eventually posted to the 1/10th Battalion, The King's (Liverpool Regiment), (Liverpool Scottish), (Territorial Force), almost certainly at his own request.
As 7494 Private N Finucane, he served with this battalion in the Ypres Salient in Belgium in early 1917. On 4 January he was part of a working party repairing a position known as Durham Trench when he was shot through the heart by a sniper and killed. He was aged 26 years.
In a letter written to Noel Finucane's mother, offering condolences on her son's death, his section commander, Second Lieutenant Arnold Gledsdale wrote:
"Dear Mrs. Finucane,
One of his friends has already written to you of your son's death in action. Will you please accept my most sincere sympathies. Your son had only been in my section for a few weeks, but he had already revealed a stout heart and a willing hand. He was recommended to me because of his success in grenade work in England, and that success I am sure would have been amplified out here.
The blow to you must be exceedingly heavy. It is difficult to try and lessen that grief, but may I suggest these consolations, that he died the most honourable death it is given to man to die, and he was killed as all of us would wish, if it is to be our fate to be killed - a bullet clean through the heart.
Again, please accept my deepest sympathy. If there is anything I can do for you please let me know.
O.C. Bombers, K.L.R."
Another account states that he was hit by machine gun fire and this may be the accurate version of his death, with Second Lieutenant Gledsdale perhaps giving a more sanitised account, calculated to cause less pain to his relatives. A later communication from the same officer was to give his mother the further information: -
"I have returned from your son's funeral. He was buried by a Church of Scotland padre in a military cemetery at --------------------------- , the battalion being represented by a number of men, a company officer, the officer who was in charge of the working party when he was hit and myself."
The cemetery location in the letter, obliterated at the time by the Army censor, was to become Vlamertinghe Military Cemetery and his remains still lie there today in Plot 5, Row C, Grave 11. The private inscription on his headstone states: -
A VOICE IS CALLING
CALLING FOR ME"
His entry in the cemetery register at Vlamertinghe concludes with:
"One of the crew of the Lusitania, afterwards on the Aquitania until the evacuation of Gallipoli."
His section commander, Second Lieutenant Gledsdale, was himself killed in action, still serving with the Liverpool Scottish, on 31 July 1917, the opening day of the Battle of Passchendaele.
The eventual successors to the old 10th Battalion, became 'V' (The Liverpool Scottish) Company, 5th/8th (Volunteer) Battalion, The King's Regiment, with its headquarters in Forbes House, Score Lane, Liverpool. Before the closure of its drill hall in 1999, Noel Finucane’s name was one of those embossed on a bronze war memorial there. It was also recorded on another bronze and wood memorial in Clint Road School, until the school was demolished during the 1990s.
By the time the Vlamertinghe Cemetery register was compiled, his parents had moved to 52 Strathcona Road, Liscard, Wallasey, Cheshire.
His surname is erroneously spelled 'Finncane' in the HMSO post-war publication 'Soldiers Died in the Great War' and he is also described as an 'assistant writer' in one edition of 'The Wallasey News'. This is probably a misprint for waiter.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1901 Census of England and Wales, 1911 Census of England and Wales, Bravest of Hearts, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Cunard Records, Joe Devereux, Steve McGreal, Soldiers Died in the Great War, Wallasey News (Photo 27/01/1917).